Thinking About: My Neo-Paganism

The Wild Unknown Tarot and Candle

Today, I was forwarded an article by Sarah Anne Lawless, titled “For Sale: Neopganism ‘As Is'”. It’s a powerful read, and I do recommend you head over and give it a look if you haven’t seen it floating about the good ol’ neopagan / witchy online community already. I won’t expound too much upon the details within the article. This is meant to be a response to it, not a review or criticism of it. In this poignant work of prose, Sarah Anne Lawless calls attention to the misinformation, lack of consistency, and abuse facing the community at-large.

Some of the information presented: about the origins of the religious and spiritual movements I have been / currently am a part of, about some of the abuse within the community, about the incorrect ‘historical’ information that is often given in widely published books on the topic, was not foreign to me. I spent a great deal of time in my under-grad applying my newly-acquired skills of research to that which was near and dear to my heart: my spirituality.  Some of the information was new, and I admit I was a little heart-broken to hear so many stories of abuse and manipulation associated with something that has brought me so much joy, learning, and purpose in life.

With the negativity floating about in the rest of the world and with as entrenched into the neo-pagan community as these issues seem, it feels very easy to become dejected and hopeless. I don’t want to let that get me down; I want to use it as a motivation for change.

My response to this article is not to review it and dissect it, but to acknowledge that there are real problems that I as a young adult within the community, as a blogger, as a person capable of speaking out about these things want to work to change- and must change if I want the neo-pagan community to be a safe place in the future for myself, for my friends, and for the future generations.

I wanted this post to be a promise to myself, to those who follow this blog, and those affected by my actions within the community:

This is a promise that I will be one-hundred percent honest in the historical context of my spiritual traditions. That I will not willing spread mis-information, and work to correct it should I accidentally do so. That my study will be not of just mass-produced books touting appropriation and misinformation as “ancient tradition” but tempered with actual research, and acknowledgement of what I was inspired by and what is of my own creation. I will not stand for blatantly appropriative behavior in the community. We can share and be inspired by one-another without claiming something as our own.

This is a promise that my neo-paganism is centered in nature-centric and animistic beliefs, and that it honors the past without attempting to claim it. It is a promise that sex and sexuality, while natural, are honored and treated appropriately. I will not stand for sexual abuse in our community. I will not stand for manipulation and abuse of any sort within our community.

This is a promise that my blog and the spaces that I hold on the internet are, and will continue to be safe spaces for people regardless of age, sex, gender, race, etc.

This post stands as an acknowledgement that I am not, and never have been perfect. Humans make mistakes. Well-meaning people spread things without realizing the effect. But this is a promise that I will continue to try and do better in the future.

Let’s make our community better. Let’s get back to the things that matter: personal spiritual growth and caring for one another and our world.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

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Thinking About: Samhain

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A small shrine I set up on my altar. On it, are pieces of jewelry from my mom, my grandmother, and great grandmother.

In this corner of Michigan, it feels almost as though Samhain and Autumn itself have been skipped. The weather has gotten incredibly chilly already, and it seems like the leaves have been dropping a bit faster than they used to. With the all of the warnings about the dangerous changes in the climate, I can definitely feel on these frigid blustery days that something is amiss.

But even the spirit of autumn seems absent. It feels like a dreary veil of grey has sort of fallen over the whole ordeal. Where I would usually be preparing for Samhain, I’m filled with a sort of apathy. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the environment. Perhaps with all that is filling my mind between the horrors of United States politics, the climate, and what’s going on in my own personal life, I just don’t have the energy left.

The time between Mabon, which passed with very little feeling for me this year, and Samhain are usually filled with a great deal of creativity and spiritual activity. The Wylde Hunt appears again in the blustery winds and the rolling thunderstorms. But this year it feels stagnant, and murky. It’s hard to feel as connected as I typically do.

However, I’m of the opinion that succumbing to that feeling of despair and hollowness only gives it a further foothold. Today, after several weeks of disuse, I approached my altar, lit some candles, placed some items in its center to honor my ancestors and family. The feelings of autumn might feel missing, but there is still time to reflect; to tend to the decaying and changing happening under the surface; to honor what was, what is, and what shall be; and to reach out and feel that yes, those energies are still there even when we don’t feel them to be present in our lives.

I suspect Samhain will be a quiet one for me this year. There’s much to think about, and much that needs to change- on a global level and a personal level. Last year was about re-attuning to the cycles and finding the rhythm without the old markers for shifts in the seasons. This year has been a lesson in subtlety, and feeling connected even when it feels most difficult to do so.

What are your plans for Samhain? How are you preparing for the darker part of the year, and the changes still ahead?

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

A Lament at Mabon

I’ve found myself feeling very disconnected and aloof lately. What follows is a bit of wax-poetic rambling from earlier this evening as I sat among the trees to enjoy the energies of Mabon, and the rising of the Full Moon.

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“Princess of Cups” from The Druidcraft Tarot, artwork by Will Worthington

Once I knew the language of trees
How each rustling of their leaves
Could mean so much—if only one knew how to listen.

Once I had so much definition in just that one thing:
That I could see their faces and
Read their leafy lips as they blew in the autumn breezes.
And now it seems so foreign…
Have I been so long in this land of fluorescence and brick?
Have I been gone so long that I have forgotten
How sweet the melodies of the forest can be?

Now it fills my heart not with understanding
But with a melancholy longing
For that which once felt so familiar to me, no—
That which still feels familiar—
But only the familiarity of a dream
As though in the very throes of sleeping wonder
I’ve been wrested from it by mundane duty.
Ephemeral on the edges of my consciousness:
Like flickering of faery light,
And distant horns of hunters that roam the evening skies.

In my heart, with each pulsing of the blood that flows through my veins,
I feel it… an echo.
An echo of something deeper—and much more profound and yet:
In my waking consciousness, I cannot quite put finger on that which I have lived before.
The melody haunts my eardrums and yet I cannot quite put to fingertips—
Or lips—the profound tune that catches in the wind and then is gone.

Faintly, my mind’s eye remembers beauty which no photograph, no drawing—
No painstaking sketch could ever come close to imagining.
On the tip of my tongue, the faintest taste of something… something…
Always searching for that which I cannot in waking consciousness grasp.

With each falling leaf,
With each howl on the wind that seems to pierce my very soul…
I want to remember
I want to wake up
Back in the place where trees spoke and moonlight bled between the branches on inky nights…

There were nights when I would run
From phantom figures in the trees,
Where I swear I heard the hoof-beats harrying me along dirt paths…

There were nights, long ago, that seemed to go on forever,
Where the cold dark eyes of a vampire
Haunted me in my sleep,
Where deep and sorrowful melodies pulled me into a sense of ecstasy.

There nights when I could hear the goddess calling me in the mists,
Her silver light a comfort,
A crow to show me the way…

And yet, now…

I cannot feel more than mere glimmers of what had once been
There was a time when I had tasted of Cerridwen’s cauldron—
When I could see the way energy moved through the land—
So apparent to my sight, that I felt one with them.

And now…
I am so trapped in that webbing of wire and artificial light
That I find myself balking at the very notion of sitting in my own yard past sunset.

And yet
Here I am on the verge of dusk,
Staring, trembling, into the forest—
As if on this night of all nights
Something will come to me that will wake me from this madness

On this grassy marshland hill,
Perhaps I’ll find a wonder—or a wound…
Like blessed Pwyll, of Dyfed before me,
Perhaps my lady in white will come riding by to take me back to that place of understanding,
That place of oneness…

Perhaps the dark hunter will blow his horn
And carry me upon his steed and into the western winds.

Or perhaps,
I will have sat here, my heart broken open,
Only to return again tomorrow
To that endless drudgery of everyday life…

Thinking About: Initiations / Rites of Dedication

yule lantern

Yesterday, I was finally able to perform my initiatory rite into the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’m not able to speak at great length about the ritual itself in this post, but I can speak about my feelings leading up to it, and my thoughts following its completion.

Despite having the materials for the course for the past six months or so, I had done very little of the actual course work. Life sort of caught up with me, and my job, home life, and mental health just did not lend me the time and proper head space I had needed to perform the rite. Thankfully, the quiet spell has seemed to have broken over the past couple of days, and I’m feeling called home once again to my practice, my art, and my studies with the little warm spell we appear to be having.

Strangely enough, it was the rite of initiation that had given me some of the most trouble in the materials I had received- not because of its content or its format or any objections I had with what it would entail. I couldn’t quite place the source of it for those first months- in fact, I don’t know that I realized some of the… oddness I’d been feeling until I was speaking to a friend about the topic this afternoon.

Every so often, I had found myself called to go over it once again. I’d start making the plans and preparing for it, and something would come up: the weather would get bad, I’d have something I had to do, etc. It would be set aside and left for the next time I’d felt the stirring somewhere within me to get back to work.

Yesterday was different. I had finally accomplished reformatting the rite a bit so that it would work with the amount of private space I had and a few other technicalities; it sat in my journal, just waiting to be performed. Yesterday was another of our random January thaws. The sun was bright and we were nearing forty or fifty degrees Fahrenheit rather than the bitter 10’s and 20’s that are typical of this time of year. I felt it on my way in to work that morning; something was stirring. By the time I was home for the afternoon, the desire to be outdoors and working on something was burning within me.

And something spoke to me then: the initiation ritual. And after months of trying to plan it out, to perhaps contact other local-ish OBOD members to assist me in performing it, to make sure everything was prepared… I decided simply that I was going to go through with it, and quickly gathered some incense and a candle and my journal, and headed out to the small grove of pine and cedars that has been my sacred space for over ten years…

The ritual was nice, pleasant, it brought me back to a sense of being at home- on my land, within my being, in my spirituality… But as I was walking inside after its completion, and as I was talking to my friend this afternoon, I couldn’t help but think that initiation and dedication rites are never quite as profound as we expect them to be.

herne candle

I find I’m always, on a certain level, expecting the ritual itself to be the eye-opening, awen-inspired moment of “Ah-ha! I understand completely, and now everything will start to be different!” But as I reflected upon my journey to the rite itself, and upon the lessons included with the ritual in my course materials, I realized that the true initiation had begun long before I had stepped out the door that afternoon.

Initiation and dedication to a specific path happens not in the single moment of a ritual. They begin within us before a circle is drawn or a candle lit. The shift of paradigm has occurred before the rite; the rite is merely a formality, a means of affirming that which we have already long known to be true. The epiphany is not a new paradigm or state of being, but a realization that we have arrived at this new place some time ago, and can now acknowledge and celebrate it.

For me, that shift started back some seven or so years ago, when I first saw the Green Man staring up at me from the pages of a book, and I started upon my discovery of Druidry. It was there in my discovery of the OBOD’s countless open resources, the befriending of other members of the order, the books, podcasts, YouTube videos, music, etc. that I found resonated with me- which were created by members. A shift had occurred the day that I purchased the Bardic Grade course, and again on the day I received the first packet of gwersi in the mail. What happened in the grove yesterday was merely me finding the voice to affirm and speak aloud the truths that had been in my heart for years. And now, the journey deeper into my studies continues.

What are your experiences with initiation rites or dedication rituals (be them to a new path, deity, etc.)? Share, if you’d like, in the comment section below.

Blessings of the Winter Forest,
Rachel